(The story of my police incident from last year – I expect to be finally paid next week. The article was published in Taxi this week. This is my original edit).
Earlier this year I wrote an article in which I spoke about what you might do if someone in your cab refused to pay, or discovered they had no money at the end of the trip. No sooner had the ink dried on the page, than I was involved in an incident that put my theory to the test.
One Saturday in mid-September I was thinking of home when I stopped for one last job in Shaftesbury Avenue. A stroke of luck, he was going to Hampstead, only ten minutes from the M1. It was about 6pm and still light, but I felt a bit uneasy about him. He was a young bloke with a posh accent, but seemed nervous. He inexplicably put £3.60 in the cash tray at Swiss Cottage, which I thought was strange. When we arrived at an upmarket address in the Frognal area he indicated for me to wait two minutes while he went inside to get some money. Tension mounted.
After about ten minutes he came out and stood by the door, fiddling with his headphones. After another five minutes, he walked past me at a brisk pace and disappeared. He ignored me completely, so I suspected he wasn’t coming back any time soon. There appeared to be nobody at home when I knocked on the door and peered through the letter box. I gave it about ten minutes before phoning 101. I told the police what had happened and that there was £41 on the meter. I was told to leave it with them.
I didn’t think of taking a photo on my phone until afterwards. Had I photographed the person on his doorstep when I first felt suspicious, it could have sped things up with the police enquiry. I also neglected to print out a receipt as evidence.
I knew it wasn’t the crime of the century. Even in leafy Hampstead there must be enough crime to keep the gendarmerie busy: burglary, dodgy antique dealing, dog fouling, &c. I was therefore prepared for a brick wall of silence, perhaps to be treated as an irritation. Not so. I received texts, phone messages, and emails to re-assure me they were still on the case. I asked if I should make contact myself; after all, I knew the address. I was advised to leave it to them.
I eventually got to speak to a policeman on the phone. He was chatty, and was interested in the cab trade. He’d visited the address but found no signs of occupancy. He told me houses in the area are often rented out – at £2000 per week – and so have periods of being unoccupied. We agreed that it looked a very posh house: it looked like a setting for The Antiques Roadshow when I looked through the letter box. There was no CCTV in the road, and as you know, I neglected to take a photo of the miscreant. Unless something new came up, there was no more they could do. I asked if one of us should post a letter at the address. The PC said he’d do that.
A week or two later I had an email to say the case was still live, but I was realistic enough to know I’d probably have to write off my £41. I tried to forget about it and move on.
Out of the blue I received a voicemail message from my PC. He said he’d “identified the culprit.” He went on to say that he’d “facilitate payment.” My PC had turned into a bank manager, but I didn’t care, I was going to get my money!
My knowledge of police procedural is informed by TV programmes. I imagined a couple of detectives celebrating the solving of this heinous crime over a pint at a pub on Hampstead Heath, like Inspector Morse and Lewis would’ve done. I wondered if the offender had come quietly, or if there had been a struggle. I imagined a crack team of cops in checked baseball caps kicking the door in, and a hardened criminal shouting “You won’t take me alive, Copper!” The response would surely be a splintering of the wooden door, and the miscreant dragged out with a few licks of a truncheon, and perhaps a Taser for good measure. I’d have the opportunity to put on a show in court by pointing out the thieving scroat: “It’s him wot done it!” Or something like that.
Of course, there would be no day in court. I didn’t want to waste any time on that. I told my PC I just wanted my money back and no fuss. The PC said he would get the money and I could pop into the station to collect it. I asked what it was all about. It was pretty much how I imagined: a first year student was horribly drunk and took a cab home (the drunkenness was cunningly disguised by dark glasses). He knew he had no money but took a gamble on his parents being in. They were out, and he panicked. It’s a bit silly doing a runner from your own home though – he must’ve known he wouldn’t get away with it! All he had to do was ask if he could send a cheque – I’ve done this twice before, with a 50% success rate. The PC had had a lot of contact with the young lad and his parents. Apparently they’d dragged him down to the cop shop by his ear and he was embarrassed about the whole thing.
Not all bilkers get caught so easily, but I can re-assure you that bilking is a crime, and the police will take it seriously. If it happens again, I’d print a receipt after calling the police and stopping the meter, and I’d take photos if possible.
Another thought: we all have notices in our cabs inviting our passengers to inform TfL should they have any cause for complaint. Perhaps we should also carry signs warning that non-payers will be prosecuted?